Implications of the Facebook Timeline for Brands Launch

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This POV discusses the major implications of the Spring 2012 Facebook Timeline for brands launch.

This is not a full overview of the new features or functionality; rather it is a review of the high-level changes in way of thinking that brands have to consider.

I wrote and published this POV for SS+K (http://www.ssk.com) on March 2, 2012.

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Implications of the Facebook Timeline for Brands Launch

  1. 1. SMART Facebook Brand Page Spring 2012 Redesign POV:BOMB Implications of the Timeline Launch March 2, 2012This week, Facebook announced an overhaul of their brand page and advertising products. The most apparent changeis the transition of brand pages to Facebook’s Timeline format, which the company launched for regular users monthsago. While making the site as a whole more consistent, the redesign has much more significant implications for brandpresence and brand/consumer user experience than the earlier rollout. Effectively, Facebook has chosen to transitionbrand pages away from a community space toward what feels more like an interactive magazine. This shifts the majorityof engagement over to users’ news feeds and puts more pressure on advertisers to publish and promote content con-tinuously. What follows is an overview of the how the most significant Facebook changes will impact your brand:  Rethinking the purpose of the brand pageThe new timeline brand page format is a much more curated experience than prior iterations. The timeline is meant to bean immersive “story” of the brand, more so than a collection of community conversations. Brands are encouraged to usethe new Timeline tools to highlight their most engaging posts (usually photos and videos), add historical milestones andhide unfavorable content. This shift to curation seems to be an unusual nod by Facebook that they favor a more aes-thetically pleasing design over full, transparent, unmoderated community conversation. The only module brands won’tcurate is the new personalized box that shows visitors which friends of theirs like the brand already and which provides asample of the engagement one of their friends has recently had with the brand.In conjunction with the shift from wall to Timeline, Facebook has added the ability for visitors to direct message brands.While this is positioned as a customer service function, it also alleviates many of the reasons people previously posteddirectly on a brand’s wall. The direct messaging function is optional for brands, but customers will likely quickly cometo expect it. The messaging function is immediately going to be a quicker, more obvious way to seek help from a brandthan navigating cluttered websites, so brands will see a significant rise in inbound requests, which they will need torespond to. For many companies, this will be a whole new responsibility to staff that didn’t exist before.Making a first impression with customersBy doing away with welcome tabs, Facebook has completely restructured how brands can make a first impression oncustomers. In the new layout, brands are given three new, but more functionally limited ways to make a first impres-sion: the “pinned post,” the large cover photo, and three “above the fold” app tiles (covered below). The pinned post isparticularly important because it’s the main opportunity for brands to feature a call-to-action on their page and it’s alsothe first of many ways that Facebook has empowered brands to turn their standard page post into a fixed promotionaldisplay unit. Because pinned posts are limited to seven days by default, brands will need to constantly make decisionson which content they’re promoting in this feature spot.With the cover photo, Facebook has introduced a disconcerting precedent by censoring how brands can use the space:no reference to Facebook features (e.g., “like” or “share”), no guiding arrows to parts of the page, no calls to action (e.g.,“get it now”) and more. While this will encourage brands to design more engaging, less sales-y images, it’s troublingthat Facebook is putting such restrictions on expression. Still, brands can find interesting ways to communicate throughvisual imagery; and changing the cover photo during pivotal moments can be leveraged as a compelling newsfeed story.1
  2. 2.  Using applications wisely for engagementWhile many people are worried that the removal of the welcome tab and the tab sidebar navigation altogether, will be thedeath of page applications, Facebook has actually made page applications more compelling than before. To begin with,brands can have up to twelve apps installed on their page including the default photo tab. All apps now have significantlybigger cover tiles to drive interest, and three of these can be selected to sit in a featured spot just below the cover photo.While visitors cannot be required to see an app, fans will be much more aware of these added experiences that brandsare providing than ever before.Because applications can’t be set as default screens, brands will need to create compelling app experiences ratherthan static “front door” menus. Brands will want to create apps that engage users and get them to generate newsfeedstories. Brands will also want to make apps compelling enough that they have reason to continually talk about them ininteresting ways in the newsfeed, driving users back in to participate. To help brands create more interesting content,Facebook has thankfully expanded the page application canvas over 50%.Accepting paid promotion as a mustDue to Facebook’s post-rank algorithm that optimizes which posts users see at any given time, on average only 16% ofa brands fans see a specific page post. The reality is, in most cases brands cannot organically reach much of their hard-earned fan base without leveraging paid media. To help brands ensure their content reaches their full potential audience,Facebook has launched several ad products that help boost exposure levels to 50% in a week and 75% in a month.Instead of separate ad content, these promoted placements will boost exposure a page’s actual page posts. They’llalso run across more touchpoints than ever before− in the sidebar, in the newsfeed, on mobile and even on the log-outscreen.Now that page posts are the foundation for ads, brands need to think through the ad experience right from the begin-ning. To be effective in the most formats, the most important message and CTA need to be in the first 90 characters (therest is truncated). Posts will also have to be planned, more than ever, around all of the brand’s needs− to drive to site,promote a new application and more. The most engaging ads will start to see more and more growth as friends viewnewsfeed stories of their friends’ interaction with a brands content.2
  3. 3.  Managing your content full timeAbove all, everything about the new Facebook emphasizes more aggressive content generation and page managementthan ever before. Curating the Timeline experience, managing direct message customer service, developing engagingcontent, planning integrated reach advertising promotion and measuring for return on investment will require extensivehuman resources and time. No brand will be able to launch a Facebook page without an active game plan and havenoticeable success.The new Facebook reality isn’t necessarily bad for brands. It’s just forced their hand. Maximizing value in Facebookis a full time job. It’s turned every brand into a content creator and a curator. It’s ensured that production, advertising,customer service and many other departments will have to work hand-in-hand from planning through execution. It willrequire more forethought, time and development than ever before. Ambitious brands will build valuable apps, developrich media for posts and design new cover photo images regularly. Not to mention that they will spend more money onFacebook advertising than ever before.While many of this week’s Facebook changes are exciting for brands and customers, it does illustrate an important pointfor everyone. Facebook is not only willing to rewrite the rules of engagement, it will likely do so over and over again. Infact, with Facebook’s pending IPO, it will be forced to create systems that put pressure on advertisers to spend moremoney and more effort in Facebook. Brands need to be prepared for these changes by planning to be flexible, and alsoby not losing sight of their other customer touchpoints. In the last year or two, some brands have considered makingFacebook their primary website. Despite Facebook’s growing depth and reach, it seems clearer than ever that an over-commitment to the Facebook platform would put anyone in a precarious position.3

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